Being a small charity shouldn’t stop you from sharing your stories.
Originally published: August 2017
“Storytelling is at the heart of everything,” says Sounddelivery founder and director, Jude Habib. “It’s not just an add-on. An organization has been set up because of a story.”
Storytelling is an important tool for charities, large or small. Sharing powerful stories about your organization’s work will engage your audiences and show the impact you’re making. Ultimately, this will help you to increase awareness of your cause, secure new funding opportunities and influence change.
Catherine Raynor, director of Mile 91, says that real stories help supporters, policy makers and the wider world to see the people behind the problems. “Quite simply, storytelling brings complex issues to life and helps create an emotional connection with audiences.”
In a crowded world, where people are bombarded with messages, you need to offer meaningful stories, adds Crystaline Randazzo, co-editor of NGO Storytelling. “Stories that are personal and emotionally compelling engage more of the brain which makes it easier for us to remember them.”
But for nonprofits with limited resources and shoestring budgets, storytelling may feel like a daunting task. Where do you begin? How on earth do you fit it in alongside all your other day-to-day work? Perhaps you only have one communications officer or you don't have the budget for expensive tools or equipment.
Don’t worry, there are ways around it. Our expert storytellers offer their tips to get you started.
Keep an eye on other organizations
Habib says a good starting point to gain inspiration is to look at what other organizations are doing, particularly those working on similar causes or those of a similar size. “Look at their social media channels and how they’re using them to tell their stories. Look at how they articulate what they do online.”
She also suggests speaking to your peers in the charity sector to get ideas. “There are lots of online and face-to-face networks. People in the sector are good at sharing advice and tips.”
Use a basic formula
Randazzo suggests using a basic formula when creating a story. “Use a written story paired with a basic photo story or a video (two minutes or less). You have about seven seconds to get your audience’s attention so lead your story with an emotionally compelling hook. Then introduce a single character, the conflict they are facing and what they have done to overcome that conflict. Finally, present how the problem could be solved with the audience’s help and give a specific call to action for the story.”
Make use of your frontline staff
If you have a tiny communications team at your charity, you’re probably wondering how to find the time to gather your charity’s stories.
“You have as many story gatherers as you have staff and volunteers working in the field (whether your ‘field’ happens to be a rural community in Sierra Leone or a hospital in South London). The people working on your frontline are the people who every day are exposed to the highs, lows and spine-tingling moments that are going to inspire your audiences,“ Raynor says.
Raynor suggests running a training session for staff to help them understand what you’re looking for and creating a toolkit for them to use when they are out collecting stories.
Habib agrees that everyone is responsible for telling the story of an organization. “You need to work together to share that voice,” she explains. “Bring staff together at lunchtime to share practical ideas that you can carry out together.”
Staff need the skills
Make sure all your staff members have the training to tell your organization’s stories. Habib says everyone needs to have digital skills. “That way if there’s an opportunity to live tweet about a relevant evening or weekend TV program with a storyline relating to your cause, there will always be someone available to do this who has the right skills.”
You don’t have to be a large nonprofit to excel at storytelling. Raynor says small charities see the impact of their work firsthand, compared to global or national organizations that often have head offices far away from their work. “Small charities have stories that are just as powerful. Feel confident. Your stories are easy to access — they are right in front of you every day.”
For good stories to be told, staff need to be confident in their skills and ability to be able to give support to and encourage the people who are sharing their stories, says Habib.
Work with your beneficiaries
Habib suggests finding ways to involve and get input from the people you’re there to advocate for so they can help steer your storytelling strategy. This will make your storytelling more authentic, as they will speak about your charity’s work in their words, not your words. They can also offer practical ideas for how to encourage more service users to share their stories.
Wealth of different voices
Don’t just look to your beneficiaries for stories, Randazzo says: “Every organization has a founder, so why not share what motivated that person or people to create the organization in the first place? I’m willing to bet that your founder is passionate about their work, and passion is a key way to get others involved.” Randazzo also suggests sharing stories from volunteers, employees, board members, donors and supporters, who will all have personal stories about working with your organization.
Make use of free tools
You don’t have to have a huge budget to share your stories. Make use of free storytelling tools that can help you bring your work to life, says Raynor. “Set up an Instagram account to share photo stories and create short films, and use Audioboo for short interviews. These are all really simple to use and can be connected to Twitter and Facebook so you can easily share your stories.”
Habib also suggests using your smartphone to gather multimedia content. “For example, if you want to capture audio stories, find out where the microphone is on your device and practice with your voice memo to hear how it sounds. Make sure you practice using it yourself before you start recording others.”
Blogging is another great way to tell your story and doesn’t need a big budget or resources. “It’s a great way of giving a platform to a range of different individuals and issues and collating their stories in one place,” explains Habib.
Measuring the impact
"For a nonprofit with limited resources, measuring the impact of storytelling can take a long time and is challenging," says Randazzo. She suggests starting small and tracking your results. “Compare engagement on storytelling posts with past non-storytelling posts on social media and Google Analytics. Hopefully the data you collect over time will assist you in getting buy-in from your senior leadership even if you are using storytelling in small ways.”
Sounddelivery offers charities a wide range of digital storytelling services, from bespoke training for experts citizens and in-house teams, to project partnerships, consultancy and content creation. On Friday October 20 2017, Sounddelivery is curating Being the Story to give a platform to extraordinary storytellers.
Mile 91 is a bespoke story gathering team for charities and changemakers, capturing spine-tingling stories that inspire action and encourage giving.
NGO Storytelling is a volunteer team of two professional media storytellers who aim to inspire and inform other humanitarian storytellers.